Water, Water Everywhere
Designing Flexible Pools
By Dave Ramont
Rentals are offered and marketed to the community, with pricing structured around resident or non-resident status, number of guests, and if one or both pools are desired. Additionally, the facility worked with the local competitive swim team to rent the pool to them during times not easily programmed, such as early morning, as well as one weekend a year when they host a swim meet that brings more than 1,000 people to the pool.
In Swanson Pool's activity pool, zero-depth entry was desired to create an accessible entry point, which was located closest to the public entrance of the pool deck as a safety precaution. Interactive water features appealing to younger children were also added to this area. "The sand play area was enlarged, as the community has always enjoyed this amenity. There was a desire to increase the shaded area, and so that also became a focus," Cabel and Fasching added.
And what about a pool's guts, or mechanics? The technology is always evolving, with a focus on sustainability and saving resources. Regenerative filters use minimal water, therefore less heating and chemicals. Variable frequency drives (VFD) are also optimal for conserving energy, as are high-efficiency water heaters. Plus, these innovations require a smaller footprint. System controllers can monitor the entire filtration system and can be accessed from smartphones, tablets or computers.
At Swanson Pool, Cabel and Fasching said that filters, pumps, chemical controllers/feeders and heaters were all part of the renovation. "These were all upgraded with the focus on efficiency to reduce annual operational costs associated with pool operations."
As Comstock pointed out, pools are expensive to build or renovate. Therefore, many facilities turn to additional ways to generate capital, such as classes, water therapy and exercise offerings, theme nights, special events and promotions.
Caron believes that "It's all about programming. A really good aquatics manager is worth their weight in gold. Creative thinking, empathetic understanding of their users' needs and the trust from their superiors can allow that manager to make any body of water highly successful."
Over at Swanson Pool, the staff is experimenting with many programs and events to attract a wide variety of users and keep them coming back. On the programmatic side, they offer swim lessons for ages six months through adult, both private and group. There are stroke clinics, diving lessons, scuba, lap swim and water polo. They also have a recreational swim team. You can take water aerobics or water Zumba, or sign up for lifeguard camps and training.
Some of the special events include Float Nights (bring your own inflatables), Pool Bingo, Biggest Splash Contest, Sink or Swim Cardboard Races, Sundae Sundays and Family Olympics. There's the World's Largest Swim Lesson, Lifeguard for a Day, Deck Art Days, Beach Parties and DJ Nights. Theme nights have included Monster, Princess and Superhero categories. They celebrate Father's Day, Parent's Day and Senior Citizens Day with special promotions. The month of June is Swim Safe with the St. Charles Park District, featuring daily pop-up activities, including a Cannonball Contest with a Lifeguard, facility tours and drop-in classes.
Get Some Support
Another important consideration in designs and renovations are the support features—concessions, comfortable seating, Wi-Fi, family changing rooms, shade features, etc. Caron said that "Nicer dry-side amenities are accompanying the wet-side amenities to increase overall user experiences and encourage longer use."
Whiteaker agrees, adding that it's the designer's job to work with the owner to maximize a customer's enjoyable experience from the time they step out of their car to enter the facility. "That's where we start to create those memorable experiences so that they want to come back next time, hopefully tomorrow," he said.
Whiteaker added that accessibility and inclusion are also important, pointing to the lazy river amenity as an example. Some may use them for water exercise by walking with or against the current, while others use them for therapeutic floating, and some just use them to be, well, lazy. "So that helps to become more inclusive in the design, but it becomes multipurpose because it appeals to a lot of different user groups."
Other ways to increase accessibility include adding handrails on both sides of stairs leading into the pool, installing lifts or elevators for water entry, and providing waterproof wheelchairs. Make sure changing rooms are accessible and easily navigable.
Caron is encouraged by these trends. "Finally there seems to be an understanding on almost every project that each facility should not only meet the letter of the law, but that they genuinely desire to meet the needs of every user in a fashion that no special requirements are needed," he said. This has translated into increased participation numbers and better facilities for everyone.
Back at Swanson Pool, Cabel and Fasching explained that each locker room received an upgrade by adding more bathrooms to meet demands. In addition, the community desired a different restroom option for families with young children, so family individual bathrooms were also added. The lobby area became more accessible for those coming in and out, and the staff counter was built to be more user-friendly, not just for those with disabilities, but also more efficient so that those with passes could scan themselves.
The concession area was completely remodeled with the intention of contracting out the concession service. "The idea was to provide a great shell of space with sinks, electrical, and service windows to attract food vendors to run the actual operation," they said.
Pool owners understand that to stay afloat, their body of water needs to be many things to many users: a destination for fun, thrills, competition, social interaction, therapy, fitness, learning or just simply a spot to cool off on a hot day. And thanks to resourceful operators, creative programmers and innovative designers, many facilities are accomplishing just that.